The United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Africa, Her Excellency Martha Ama Akyaa Pobee with her delegation, accompanied by the United Nations Resident Coordinator in Sierra Leone, Dr. Babatunde A. Ahonsi, on Thursday 11 May 2023 paid a courtesy on President Julius Maada Bio citing the country’s groundbreaking Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment, GEWE, law and government’s progressive Free Quality Education initiative.
The visit is part of her office’s functions in the area of election support and confidence-building dialogue with stakeholders, as well as part of the process of supporting post-war peacebuilding ahead of the country’s 24 June 2023 elections.
“Your Excellency, as part of my responsibilities, I am here in Sierra Leone to see what kind of support we can give to this country, which you have very much invested in and which we really want to support fully as the country’s peacebuilding efforts continue, particularly at this time of the upcoming elections.
“I will be engaging stakeholders to listen and also understand how we as an organisation can continue to support them. I have to also convey the concern of the Secretary-General for the region broadly, and we note also for West Africa that this is a particularly critical year for elections with several election processes taking place. We are trying to accompany member states to provide support at the national level and at the regional level on how we can consolidate the peace and democratic gains across the region,” she noted.
Her Excellency Pobee noted that regard, they really welcomed the fact that Sierra Leone had taken ownership and control of electoral processes, including financing every aspect of the election processes, adding that they also wanted to commend the President for signing into law the GEWE Act, as well as for implementing very progressive agenda in the education sector, in particular the radical inclusion policy.”
“We really commend the leadership, Your Excellency has shown in the education sector and we really hope that the GEWE Act will translate into a high number of women’s representation in decision-making in parliament and in government, which is key to sustainable development. This is the example we think Sierra Leone offers for the entire world because of the leadership you have shown,” he noted.
The UN envoy also commended the effort of the government to ensure a level playing field for other actors in the political landscape, promoted inclusive dialogue to build consensus on critical issues, and urged a state of preparedness.
She welcomed Sierra Leone’s eminent entry into the Security Council, pointing out that it was an important issue that further demonstrated how the country could strategically provide leadership and represent the region in that regard. She used the opportunity to congratulate the country on the gains made in the recent renewal and upgrading of its human rights status but also expressed her frustration at the misuse of social media for the spread of false and fake news that could undermine democracy, peace and national social cohesion.
President Julius Maada Bio, while formally welcoming and assuring the United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Africa and team to Sierra Leone, said he, as President, and Sierra Leone as a member state of the United Nations, were very much committed to their obligations and to a rule-based international system.
“We have provided most of what we can to support the electoral process as an independent state. We think it is necessary to start to show that we can also start to take up challenging tasks under the circumstances. We are fully committed to peace, elections, democracy, and ensuring that we have very peaceful elections.
“We have had several transitions and democratic elections since 1996 when I handed over as a military officer to a democratically elected president. My commitment to peace is beyond reproach because I have not only fought for peace in this country, but I have also done that on that peace table, played a critical role in meeting with the rebel leader for the end of the war, and returned this country to democratic governance,” President Bio revealed.
He stated that part of his present governance structure was to consolidate the peace by establishing the Independent Commission for Peace and National Cohesion to make space for more dialogue on critical national issues. He added that his government had also opened up the political space by consolidating a liberal democracy with all the freedoms that came with it and by ensuring that people were free to speak up.
“I believe that critical issues can be resolved through dialogue with the establishment of the peace commission. This is not by a mere verbal pronouncement but by our actions, not only to open up the space but also because I believe that the rules of the game must be clear and accepted by everybody well ahead of elections. If there are any disagreements, we should resolve them so that the election results will be credible and accepted by all,” the President reassured.